Going out on top
A Times Editorial
Allan Bense's graceful exit from politics leaves Republicans stuck with Katherine Harris for Senate. She'll hardly pose a true test to the incumbent.
Published May 11, 2006
Florida House Speaker Allan Bense chose private life over public life Wednesday with the same directness and dignity that made him so highly regarded in the Legislature and so sought after for Congress. It took a man comfortable in his own skin to turn down the overtures from Gov. Jeb Bush and other prominent Republicans to enter the U.S. Senate race and spare them the embarrassment of backing U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris.
Bense's approach was typically low-key and straightforward. He first announced his decision not in a flashy news conference but in a simple e-mail to other House members. The competitor in him thought he could beat Harris and incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, but he did not want to spend time away from his family or his home in Panama City fighting battles in Washington. If only more politicians and would-be candidates were as honest with themselves and the voters.
So now Republicans are stuck with Harris, a terribly flawed candidate whom even Bush acknowledges can't win. National Republicans have other battles to fight and won't spend a nickel in Florida. That means Floridians won't have to suffer through quite as many television ads, but it also means Nelson won't be tested by a viable candidate in ways that would make him a better senator.
It is remarkable that as dominant as Republicans have become in Florida they could not do better than Harris, a caricature whose role in the 2000 recount as Florida's secretary of state turned her into a polarizing figure. Don't blame Bense, who had made it clear when he became speaker that he did not intend to seek another political office and reconsidered only at the urging of Republicans desperate for an alternative. Blame it on Bush and other Republican leaders who did not recruit a credible candidate months earlier. Nelson also didn't make it easy, raising millions in campaign contributions, taking the lead on such issues as offshore oil drilling and establishing a record as a reasonable moderate.
Harris has failed to raise as much money as expected and has replaced her campaign staff. She continues to dodge questions about her ties to a defense contractor embroiled in a bribery scandal while distorting Nelson's voting record. If only she could conduct her campaign with some semblance of the grace with which Bense is leaving politics.
[Last modified May 11, 2006, 06:21:45]
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